As 2021 gets further underway, many senior-year undergrads, and people who have been out of school for a while, are pondering their futures. And a question dawning on many of them is this: Should I go to grad school? Applying to grad school is an often difficult and time-consuming process, requiring testing, essays, gathering letters of recommendation, and researching the best program for you. Further, a grad program itself is a serious commitment, of both time and money, meaning that it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.

However, grad school can be an important, even vital, step in your academic and professional journey, and many prospective grad students have planned their careers around their attendance. So, should you go to grad school? Here are some considerations to make before you apply:

What is grad school?

“Grad school” refers to any academic degree pursued after your undergraduate studies. This includes professional programs like law school, medical school, and business school. It also includes master’s and PhD programs. Most grad school programs have application processes similar to undergrad and require transcripts, essays, and standardized test scores.

Do I need a grad degree?

Depending on your career plans, a graduate degree may be not only desirable, but necessary. While all grad programs improve your qualifications, there are some careers that require at least one postgraduate qualification. For those who want to be lawyers, legal degrees are only offered at the postgraduate level. Would-be professors need a PhD or other terminal degree. Depending on your state, teachers are often expected to have a master’s, and many in the business world find that an MBA is a requirement for the highest tiers of their profession. If your dream career has a grad degree as an entry requirement, going to grad school is not only a good idea, it’s practically a “must.”

How long will the program take?

In terms of time commitment, not all grad programs are created equal. While an MA or an MBA typically takes only two academic years, a JD takes three, and a PhD can take as long as eight to ten years. Depending on a variety of factors, including your financial situation, your current career trajectory, and the goings-on in your personal life, it’s important to consider whether you can devote the necessary time to the grad program to which you’re accepted.

Can I afford it?

Grad programs are often extremely expensive, with the average MBA tuition standing at $60,000 per year, plus the cost of living expenses. Whether or not you can afford any given grad program is an important consideration. That said, there are many opportunities to reduce the cost of attendance, through either institution-sponsored or private scholarships, or programs such as those at law schools paying full tuition for students who pursue a public sector legal career. PhD programs are often fully funded by the institution, including living stipends. So while cost is certainly an important consideration in whether or not you should go to grad school, it’s important not to let fear of the cost keep you from applying.

Do I really want to?

The final consideration is really up to you. Do you want to attend grad school? The best grad students are those who want to be there and are excited by their program. You should never go to grad school simply because you feel like you “should,” or because someone else wants you to. However, if you’ve done your research and want to go for yourself, then go for it! And best of luck on your grad school application and career.

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